EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Composer Bear McCreary Talks THE WALKING DEAD, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA & KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM
Published: December 8, 2011 - 9:24am
I caught up with the Emmy nominated composer to reflect on his favorite and most difficult moments scoring the AMC zombie apocalypse TV series, Frank Darabont's influence and if he feels pressure to top his work on Battlestar Galactica; Plus McCreary teases Knights of Badassdom and more.
Bear McCreary has been hailed as one of the greatest sci-fi music composers of all time. The Emmy nominated composer has worked on the acclaimed series Battlestar Galactica and Caprica earning massive success and notoriety for his scores. He's also worked on Human Target, The Cape and Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles to name a few. His current project however has been scoring the Robert Kirkman comic adapted TV series The Walking Dead.
Keven: Congratulations on The Walking Dead being renewed for a third season, can fans expect you to return yet again?
Bear: Thank you. Yes, fans can look forward to hearing my music again next season. It's going to be an intense, crazy ride and I look forward to it as much as you guys do.
Keven: The opening credits for Walking Dead are so sinister, were you inspired by anything in particular when creating that arrangement? I almost felt a Hitchcock vibe hearing it for the first time.
Bear: There was definitely a Bernard Herrmann influence, the composer who most famously collaborated with Hitchcock. I was very inspired by his use of unique and small ensembles to create chilling, signature textures.
Keven: Do you come up with music watching the actual episodes or are you reading scripts ahead of time? Has there ever been anything that you've been asked to change or has AMC unleashed you, so to speak, on the series?
Bear: I generally wait until I see the final cut of the episode to really get my ideas. I find that an unfinished cut of a show kind of "speaks" to me. I can hear what needs to be there. And like any project, "The Walking Dead" is a collaborative effort. It's not a question of being "unleashed" or not, I just need to incorporate the producers' and network's ideas into my own and craft the score that everyone wants. Thankfully, on this project, we're all in agreement and I've been able to really push the boundaries of what a horror score can do.
Keven: How do you come up with a score to accompany a bloated well-bound zombie being torn in half as opposed to a sequence where Carl is shot? Do you have a formula that you've developed now in regards to creating the sweet sounds of a zombie apocalypse or is it still a work in progress?
Bear: Formula is exactly what I'm trying to avoid. I'm trying to avoid using the sounds one would expect in those sequences. Sure, there are times when you need to use scary sounds for scary imagery. But, if you're inconsistent about it, it keeps the audience on their toes. Sometimes I have very elegant music accompanying terrifying imagery, and sometimes vice versa. The end result is that feeling of uneasiness when you watch... you're never sure where the show is going to go.
Keven: When you first came on board with AMC's Walking Dead, had you been aware of the source material ahead of time and the rabid fan base?
Bear: You kidding? I was the rabid fanbase. I've read Kirkman's comics for years, and was (and continue to be) current in the issues. So, it was a real thrill to get involved with the series, especially with the incredible talent involved.
Keven: Do you have a favorite episode so far that you've scored and which one is it?
Bear: The mid-season finale, "Pretty Much Dead Already," was a real knock out and incredibly rewarding for me, creatively. There are also some episodes coming up in the second half of Season 2 that are just astonishing. But, I must say I still look back on the pilot episode as a real achievement in every aspect, including music.
Keven: My personal favorite sequence of music so far is in the pilot where we see Rick and Morgan; where Rick is shown being able to pull the trigger on the legless walker and Morgan isn't able to finish the job – that was a beautiful arrangement and I'm just wondering what your thoughts were on coming up with that epic piece?
Bear: Frank Darabont had a lot to do with that sequence. He crafted it that way and built it so artfully that it could be scored with that approach. I was very excited about it when I saw it. So, there was never a discussion of scoring it any other way. Frank always brought stunning ideas to the table, and set the series on its successful path.
Keven: Which episode or 'sequence' has been the most difficult to come up with music so far during your time working on TWD?
Bear: It's not the scenes you'd expect. The montage in the pilot, or the closing moments of "Pretty Much Dead Already" were actually surprisingly obvious. The montage at the beginning of the season 2 premiere was a tough one, though. There were many different ways you could "shade" the scene while Rick was giving his speech on the walkie talkie. Is he determined? Is he sad? Is he depressed? Is he strong? You could interpret it many different ways, and I chose to write a piece that kind of straddled the line between all of them.
Keven: Because of your time spent scoring Battlestar Galactica, do you feel pressure from those fans to top yourself with new projects or do you even care about those sorts of things?
Bear: I don't give it a moment's thought. In some aspects, I will never "top" my work on BSG because it was such a unique series in so many ways. I don't think of my work as a linear progression like that, a bar that needs to be raised and topped, or a standard that can't be reached. I think of my career as spanning 3 dimensions. The Walking Dead is going a different direction than BSG, so it's not even a question of topping it. That's the only way I can keep myself sane and continue working.
Keven: You are scoring Knights of Badassdom, how is that coming along and what do you think fans will think of the highly anticipated flick? Do you have a theme song for Summer Glau now that you've scored a few of her projects (joking…but no, do you)?
Bear: KoB is a delightful project and I think fans are going to flip the eff out when they see it. It will be one of my most fun scores, both dark and cerebral and rockin' and adventurous. Oddly enough, I wrote a theme for Summer's character in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and a new theme for her in The Cape. Will she have a new theme in Knights of Badassdom? Fans will have to see the film to know the answer!
The Walking Dead stars Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs and Norman Reedus. AMC's Emmy Award-winning horror drama, based on the acclaimed comic book series by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, airs Sunday nights at 9/8c.